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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Polls Indicate Dem Pick-up of Senate Seat in Alabama Still Possible

No matter what the doomsayers say, progresssives should not allow themselves to get unduly pessimistic about Democratic prospects for defeating Roy Moore in Alabama and picking up a U.S. Senate seat. According to Harry Enten’s fivethirtyeight.com post, “Doug Jones Is Just A Normal Polling Error Away From A Win In Alabama,”

A look at all U.S. Senate election polls since 19982 shows that their average error — how far off the polls were from the actual election result — is more than a percentage point higher than the average error in presidential polling. Also, Alabama polls have been volatile, this is an off-cycle special election with difficult-to-predict turnout, and there haven’t been many top-quality pollsters surveying the Alabama race. So even though Moore is a favorite, Democrat Doug Jones is just a normal polling error away from winning. (Or, by the same token, Moore could win comfortably.)

The polls in Alabama have swung back and forth between Moore and Jones over the past month. The Washington Post first reported on allegations against Moore on Nov. 9, and after that, surveys indicated that the race was moving in Jones’s direction. He held an average advantage of 5 percentage points in polls that were taken six or seven days following the story. Since then, polls have Moore ahead by 3 points, on average, although Jones led by 3 points in a Washington Post poll. (That’s the only recent survey that meets FiveThirtyEight’s gold standard.3)

Fair enough. There is not a lot of data to be bullish about there. But certainly it could be worse. Enten adds, “Simply put, Senate polling has not been especially predictive over the past 10 cycles. Among the 2,075 Senate polls in the FiveThirtyEight database that were taken within 21 days of an election, the average error has been 5.1 percentage points. And that has been fairly consistent across cycles. The 2016 Senate polls featured an average error of 5.2 percentage points.”

However, adds Enten, “the chance of a big error may be unusually high in Alabama. Because of the unusual timing of the election, pollsters may have a difficult time determining who is going to turn out to vote.”

Poll analyst Ruy Teixeira notes that, in the Washington Post poll, Jones pulled about 33 percent suppport from Alabama white voters, which is the same percentage another poll analyst Geoffrey Skelley says Jones must receive to win — provided there is a strong African American turnout favoring Jones at least 9-1.

In addition, Moore’s late-breaking gaffe,“I think it [America] was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.” is the sort of comment that could energize African American voters, and possibly serve as a ‘last straw’ for other voters who may prefer to stay home, vote for the write-in candidate, or even vote for Democrat Doug Jones rather than cast a ballot for Moore. And there is always the possibility that write-in candidate Col. Lee “Hold My Beer” Busby will take a healthier than expected bite from Moore’s tally, energized by a crritical mass of upright conservatives who are embarrassed by Moore’s sleazy record.

That’s a lot of “ifs,” granted. But, overall Dems have done a little better than expected in 2017 special elections. We’re not expecting a blue wave here. But it’s just possible that a majority of Alabama voters on Tuesday will be ready to bring their state into the 21st century.

Inside the GOP Vision for America’s Health Care

Writing in The Progressive, Ramon Catleblanch paints a frightening picture of the Republican vision for America’s health care, as previewed in their tax legislation. Catleblanch’s article, “The Tax Bill Is Just the First Strike in the GOP War on Medicare and Medicaid,” explains:

This month’s congressional Republican tax legislation is a planned first strike against Medicare, Medicaid, and many other essential federal programs. Senator Marco Rubio admitted as much last week when he said that Republicans will have to institute “structural changes to Social Security and Medicare” to pay for the increases in federal debt created by their tax plan.

The published House Republican plan, known as “A Better Way,” raises the eligibility age for Medicare from age 65 to 67. And it does not allow newly retired seniors to receive traditional Medicare, but rather forces them into buying medical insurance with a government voucher. As the voucher could be for much less than the prices of available insurance, these seniors could have to pay large premiums.

The insurance available for those seniors to buy would be inferior to current Medicare. House Republicans have specifically called for a 20 percent copay for all services, including hospital care. This plan would also raise the deductible for outpatient care to about $1,500 per year. With such a high deductible, many seniors would likely forego essential care, leading to illnesses and injuries getting out of control and, in some cases, deaths.

And, “even after the 20 percent copay, physicians would not have to accept Medicare insurance payment as payment-in-full,” adds Castellblanch. Further, “medical groups could send supplemental bills to patients. If the patients didn’t pay those bills, physicians could then send collections agents after Medicare patients.” As a result, he predicts “for the first time in over fifty years, America would have an uninsured senior crisis.”

The GOP plan for Medicaid is “no less Draconian.” Federal funding foer tyhe program would be gutted by block grants and service cutbacks, and there would be newe premium requirements imposed by states. Thewre would also be drastic cuts in Medicaid funds for nursing homes, forcing staff cutbacks and closures.

As for “the repeal of the individual mandate to buy health insurance,” Maggie Fox writes at nbcnews.com,

While the mandate is unpopular among voters, it was a must-have for health insurance companies. They demanded such a mandate to even take part in the health insurance exchanges set up by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and without it, many more can be expected to hike premiums or drop out altogether from the Obamacare markets, experts predict.

“If the requirement to carry adequate health insurance disappears, so will the health care coverage of many Americans,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement…“As insurance rolls decrease, premiums will rise an average of 10 percent,” Brown said. “Paying more for health insurance will be a heavy weight to carry if you have a pre-existing condition like heart disease or stroke. We fervently believe this provision should be rejected and removed from the final legislation.”

In his New Yorker article, “The Passage of the Senate Republican Tax Bill Was a Travesty,” John Cassidy notes,

…The bill also included the repeal of the individual mandate to purchase health-care insurance, a provision that would undo much of the good Collins did when she voted against the Republican health-care bill. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it would raise the number of uninsured Americans by thirteen million, and raise the premiums on individual plans by ten per cent. Using a tax bill to abolish the individual mandate amounts to a backdoor way of sabotaging Obamacare. Collins, Murkowski, and McCain have yet to explain why they went along with it.

By even moderate progressive standards, the Republican tax bill that emerges from the conference committee will likely be a regressive monstrosity of historic proportions. What it will bode for their vision of America’s health care will be  even more disturbing. If Democrats needed more encouragement to mobilize a landslide for the 2018 midterm elections, that should do the trick.

Teixeira: How Doug Jones Can Beat Roy Moore

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

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It won’t be easy. But the Washington Post/Schar School poll, a poll that gives Jones a 3 point lead among likely voters, shows how it will happen, if it does happen. First, overwhelming support from blacks, combined with solid turnout (this poll has blacks at about a quarter of likely voters, which is good but not unreasonably high). Then mega-swings in the white vote relative to 2016. Trump carried the white vote by 70 points in Alabama in 2016. In this poll, Moore carries the white vote by a mere 30 points (63-33).

The Post poll allows one to break down the white vote by college and noncollege. The poll has white noncollege voters supporting Moore by “only” 42 points. That sounds like a lot but compared to Trump’s 77 point margin among this group in 2016, it’s not bad. And there are twice as many white noncollege voters as white college voters so that swing, if it happens, will loom pretty large in determining the outcome. We can’t break white noncollege down between men and women but judging from other data in the poll, it seems plausible that white noncollege women will drive the swing. How much they move could determine Alabama’s next Senator.

Tomasky: It’s Time for a ‘Popular Front’ Against Trumpism

At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky expresses support for Brookings scholar Benjamin Wittes’ 18-point proposal, tweeted last weekend, urging a broad, bipartisan coalition to end Trump’s reign of chaos. As Tomasky writes, “all decent people of left and right must set aside their differences and unite to defeat Trump and Trumpism.”  Tomasky explains further,

Under the hashtags #CoalitionofAllDemocraticForces and #IBelieve, Wittes argued that he wants to see “a temporary truce on all [questions of disagreement], an agreement to maintain the status quo on major areas of policy dispute while Americans of good faith collectively band together to face a national emergency. #IBelieve that facing that national emergency requires unity.” He wants Americans “across the political spectrum [to] unite around a political program based on the protection of American democracy and American institutions.”

Wittes, writes Tomasky, is “correct about two basic things”:

…One, that this is a national emergency. If I have to spell out why for you, you’re reading the wrong column and should stick to the gossip pages. Trump is a clear and present danger the likes of which we’ve never seen. Two, that the top priority far and away of decent people of all ideologies has to be to confront Trumpism and to stop it.

Tomasky cites the “popular front” against fascism during World War II, which brouigh together such politically-disparate leaders as FDR and Stalin, as well as rank and file liberals, conservatives, socialists and communists, all of whom recognized the urgency of defeating Hitler.

United in that singular objective, they prevailed. The ‘Popular Front’ coalition members didn’t sacrifice any of their core principles, and after stopping Hitler and Mussolini, they resumed their conflicts with each other.

Tomasky adds that Wittes’  “principles, by the way, are bipartisan and unobjectionable,” and they include “Commitments to the First Amendment; to transparent government; to getting to the bottom of Russia; to science and evidence; to no Muslim-bashing, “full stop”; to fighting presidential abuse of power; and more along those lines.” Tomasky urges leaders and “maybe tens of thousands of regular citizens to co-sign on Facebook.”

Yes, there would be problems in mobilizing and sustaining such a diverse coalition. Tomasky calls the roll of some leading conservatives who are already on board with ending Trumpism:

..I look over the past 11 months, and I don’t see that I’ve changed a whit. Instead I see Kristol and George Will popping up on MSNBC, I see Max Boot emerge as one of the most powerful critics of Trumpism around, and I peruse Jennifer Rubin’s columns that with each passing week are reading more and more like Molly Ivins’. Irving Kristol, Bill’s father, famously said that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. Today, a liberal is a conservative who’s been trumped by it.

He could have added the Bush family, journailists Michael Gerson, Joe Scarborough and a growing list of other Republican politicians and conservatives, who are fed up and calling for change.

Tomasky’s pitch makes a lot of sense. Such strategic alliances are the only remaining course, since Democrats and moderate Republicans have failed, working separately, to compel Trump and his enablers to restore some basic dignity and decency to our politics. Numerous opinion polls and Trump’s dismal approval ratings indicate that a majority consensus for ending Trumpism has arrived. Now it’s up to patriotic liberals, moderates and conservatives to coalesce into a powerful force that can get that job done.

Metzgar: Social Class and Trump Voters

The following article by Jack Metzgar is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

Politico’s Michael Kruse visited my hometown earlier this month to get a look at “one of the long-forgotten, woebegone spots in the middle of the country that gave Trump his unexpected victory last fall.”  Kruse concluded that “Johnstown Never Believed Trump Would Help.  They Still Love Him Anyway.”  The story, based on interviews with nine Trump supporters and one man who voted for Hillary Clinton, is part of a stream of articles attempting to explain why Trumpians have remained so loyal to a president who has failed to deliver on any of his campaign promises so far and, for the most part, hasn’t even tried.  Problem is that about the same time as this spate of articles appeared a well-respected poll showed “Most White Workers Souring on Trump.”

This sounds like a potentially important debate, but it never really becomes important because there is such a confusion of categories, often made worse by a lingering white-trash class prejudice that is sometimes used to resolve the confusion.  Different authors are simply looking at different parts of an elephant while thinking they’re seeing the whole thing.

Kruse, for example, is focused on “Trump supporters,” who are often referred to as “Trump’s base” and who appear to be sticking with him come hell or high water.   References to “Trump’s base” usually refer to “working-class whites,” who are white people without bachelor’s degrees and are generally thought to be a reservoir of racist, sexist, and other deplorable attitudes.  But this class language confuses more than it clarifies.  Whites without bachelor’s degrees voted overwhelmingly for Trump, and they are by far the largest group of Trump voters.  But whites with bachelor’s degrees also narrowly voted for Trump over Clinton.  Only 48% of Trump voters were working-class whites, while 38% were middle-class whites (by education), and 13% were nonwhite.

“Trump supporters” or “Trump’s base” are somewhat smaller groups than “Trump voters,” many of whom voted against Hillary rather than for Trump.  But the larger point is that whether voters or supporters, Trumpians are not all whites without bachelor’s degrees – only about one-half of them are.  The identification of Trump with the white working-class is mostly not true.

When Michael Kruse searched out nine people to represent all of Johnstown, he found one retail worker, one retired nurse, two retired teachers, three small business owners, the Johnstown city manager, and a man who would not identify his occupation.  Kruse pays no attention to who does and does not have a bachelor’s degree.  He very sensibly highlights their occupations, not their formal education. That means that Kruse’s interviewees are much more likely to reflect the complex class make-up of Trump’s base than the convenient belief that only un-college-educated white people would fall for a carnival-barker snake-oil salesman like Trump.   In fact, more than 24 million white people with college educations voted for the guy.

While most reports on votes or polling define the working-class by lack of a college education, others define the working class by income (usually households with annual incomes below $50,000). But that definition of class also doesn’t support the idea that Trump won because of the white working class. Whites from households earning less than $50,000 are less likely to vote than other whites, and in 2016 those who did vote did not lopsidedly opt for Trump.

While education, occupation, and income are all reasonable ways to define a person’s social class, each describes a somewhat different group whose voting behavior is significantly different — despite overlap among these three categories.  This generates constant confusion as different commentators make what seem like contradictory claims about the white working class when they are actually focused on somewhat different white working classes.

This is a legitimate intellectual confusion, especially common among well-educated journalists whose higher educations included little or nothing about class in America.  Less legitimate, and much more  false, is the growing willingness of political writers to use an educated/uneducated class binary among whites to distinguish between Trump voters in suburbs whose basic sense of decency can be appealed to and the Trump base which is seen as a hopelessly ignorant stew of economic nationalists who pine not just for lost jobs and economic prospects, but also for the good old days of patriarchy and white supremacy.  The latter group definitely exists and, as Kruse demonstrates, it is not hard to find examples in places like my hometown, but the educated/uneducated binary does not hold, as at least half of Kruse’s sample likely have bachelor’s degrees and some of the weirdest attachments to the man with orange hair seem to reside in white business owners, not workers.

But there are two other problems with contrasting Trump voters from suburbs to Trump supporters from “woebegone spots in the middle of the country” as if they represented a simple educated/uneducated class binary.  First, about two-thirds of adults who live in suburbs do not have bachelor’s degrees, and therefore, would be classified as working class.  The suburban vote in large metropolitan areas is not synonymous with an educated white middle class – and hasn’t been for decades.  Second, and even more elementary, just because you can easily find Trump supporters in woebegone spots doesn’t mean that all white folks in those spots are Trump supporters, as Kruse’s reporting so strongly implies.

Johnstown offers much more interesting fodder for political analysis than its woebegone-ness.   It is in a swing county that in the 21st century has swung from Al Gore to George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Mitt Romney and finally to Trump last year.  As British reporter Gary Younge found in his visit to Johnstown, economic desperation and every kind of decline you can think of accounts for both the area’s swingy-ness and its large number of Trump voters in 2016.  Combining my own impressions with this county-wide voting data, here’s how I’d characterize Cambria County’s citizens:

The largest group among the white working class are non-voters, who either don’t care about politics at all or are disdainful of politicians of all stripes. They simply believe voting makes no difference.  This group is itself complex, ranging from people who keep up with the news and have independent-minded opinions about issues to people who never watch or read much news at all and do not form opinions of their own about current issues.  Among regular voters, there are strong Democrats and strong Republicans, somewhat skewed by race and class, but both groups include people with and without bachelor’s degrees.

But most importantly, Johnstown has swing voters, a group that has been growing larger as conditions in their communities and their lives continue to deteriorate.  This group, along with the Democrats, voted for Obama in 2008, and a sizeable part of it voted for him again in 2012.  But when Donald Trump came to Johnstown and promised to bring back coal mining and steel jobs, there was an enormous swing toward him in 2016.  Given what President Obama had produced – a steady, substantial, but exceedingly slow economic recovery during which their already diminished lives either did not change or got worse – and what Hillary Clinton was half-heartedly promising, the Cambria County swing to Trump had a what-the-hell quality to it that was neither pathological nor irrational.  As a former steelworker who voted for both Obama (twice) and Trump told Gary Younge, “I liked [Obama’s] message of hope, but he didn’t bring any jobs in.”

Trump tapped into a large well of hateful resentments that were simmering in Johnstown before he showed up, resentments that so far as I can tell are no more common in the white working class than in the white middle class.  But if you focus on the swing voters, not the Trump zealots, you have to ask yourself what might swing these voters back to a more progressive politics. I suspect these alternative focuses are applicable across the Rust Belt states.

And this is part of the problem with the way reporters and other analysts focus on the Trump zealots as if they are the whole of the white working-class: they encourage Democrat politicians to aim to win over what they imagine as “traditional Republicans” in “affluent suburbs” – folks they hope will be increasingly disgusted by the character and behavior of our president.  That approach may yield some votes. But this merely anti-Trump focus allows Dems to avoid hammering out a governing vision, message, and program that could really make a difference to voters like many in Johnstown – those who are desperately swinging back and forth in the vain hope that voting in the world’s oldest democracy might make a difference in the lives they get to live.

Will Puerto Rican Migrants Turn FL Blue?

The political fallout of Hurricane Maria may well include a transformational effect on one of the most influential swing states, reports Sam Petula in his post, “The Puerto Rican migration could shape Florida politics for years to come” at CNN Politics:

Figures on school enrollment provided to CNN from the Florida Department of Education suggest that well over 50,000 Puerto Ricans will have moved to Florida and made it their residence heading into the midterm election next year…These voters are likely to be strong Democrat supporters, as an analysis by Dan Smith, a University of Florida professor, found that heavily-Puerto Rican districts only gave 15 to 35% support to Trump.

…With a colleague, Melendez found that if 9,600 Puerto Rican children enroll in schools, that means a total of about 41,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to Florida. On the high end, if 15,400 students enroll, an estimated 83,000 Puerto Ricans migrated. There is a very high probability based on the current trend that the lower estimate will be surpassed by next November. Migration at this level will mean Republicans face an even harsher demographic shift in a state already trending away from them. Hispanics constituted an estimated 12% of the eligible voter population in Florida in 2000. Before the Hurricane, that number was expected to double by 2030.

In her Facing South “Institute Index” blog, Sue Sturgis adds some numbers that Democrats should find encouraging:

Number of Puerto Ricans who currently live in Florida, a political swing state: over 1 million

Number of Puerto Ricans expected to arrive in Florida’s Orlando area alone in the next few months: more than 100,000

Percentage points by which the last two presidential and gubernatorial races were decided in Florida: less than 1<

Percent of Florida’s non-Cuban Latino vote that went to Hillary Clinton: about 70

Clinton’s edge over Trump among Florida’s Puerto Rican voters: 3 to 1

Given Florida’s history of voter suppression, Democrats should be only cautiously optimistic about the political effects of the Puerto Rican migration to Florida. But it’s clear that Democrats have much to gain by putting some muscle into voter registration and GOTV targeting Puerto Rican migrants, who have a bone or two to pick with Republicans who have neglected the crisis in their homeland.

Enten: Polling Trendline Favors Jones in Alabama — for Now

From Harry Enten’s “Is Roy Moore Losing?” at FiveThirtyEight.com:

A Change Research survey released Thursday found Democrat Doug Jones leading Republican Roy Moore 46 percent to 43 percent ahead of Alabama’s special Senate election on Dec. 12. The survey is just one of many to show that the allegations of child molestation and sexual misconduct against Moore have really eroded his support. Not only that, but the first few polls released after the allegations became public on Nov. 9 may have understated his problems. He seems to have fallen even further since then.

Enten adds that “The average of surveys fielded after the first accusations shows the race exactly tied,” and notes,

Let’s take a look at the three pollsters — Change Research, Gravis Marketingand Strategy Research — that conducted at least two surveys after the allegations. Change Research’s first post-allegations poll, conducted Nov. 9-11, had Moore at +4 points. As we noted above, its Nov. 15-16 survey had Jones at +3. Gravis Marketing showed an identical 7-point shift toward Jones, going from Moore +2 on Nov. 10 to Jones +5 in its Nov. 14-15 poll. Strategy Research, meanwhile, went from Moore +6 in its poll ending on Nov. 13 to Moore +2 in its poll ending on Nov. 21.

Further, Enten explains, “If these later surveys in Alabama are a truer reflection of where the race stands, Jones may actually have an advantage. An average of Alabama polls conducted over the past week, for instance, gives Jones a 47 percent to 43.5 percent lead.”

“Either way,” cautions Enten, “there’s still three weeks to go until election day. It’s possible that the trajectory of the race could change by then. There are also questionsabout what the partisan composition of the electorate will look like in a December off-year election — just how anti-Trump will it be? These factors make this race too uncertain to call.”

In other words, it could be all about turnout. Reporting on the ground games of the two candidates to date is pretty thin. But Democrats clearly have reason to hope that GOP’s monopoly of Alabama politics in recent years may be coming to an end.

Here’s the Jones campaign’s hard-hitting ad:

Teixeira: GOP’s Unpopular Tax Bill Won’t Stop Blue Wave

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

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My, my what will those crazy rascals in the GOP think of next? Not content with being beaten soundly about the ears in the 2017 elections and currently running a serial child molester for Senator, the overachievers in the Republican Party and seeking to ram yet another incredibly unpopular piece of legislation through Congress in the spirit of their attempted repeal of Obamacare. John Sides of The Monkey Cage blog notes the following about the GOP’s tax reform plan:

….George Washington University political scientist Chris Warshaw compiled public polls capturing support for major legislation dating back almost 30 years….

On average, only about 30 percent of Americans support the tax plan. This is lower than support for almost any of these legislative initiatives. The only thing that was less popular was … the Republican health-care bill that was intended to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Gee, who would have thought that a bill that mostly cuts taxes for corporations and the rich while eventually raising taxes on middle income families would be unpopular?

Meanwhile, evidence continues to build that unpopularity (of their President, of the bills they have tried to pass, of the Republican Congress) will hurt the GOP big-time in 2018. Yes, I know some are reluctant to utter these words out loud, fearing that some mysterious Trump ju-ju will save the Republicans in the end. But, as Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter pointed out on her Twitter feed, the real lesson of 2016 is “Don’t ignore or rationalize away what’s right in front of you. A Dem wave is building. And it’s big”.

Yup, that’s right. What looks like it’s happening, in all probability, is really happening. So believe it and act accordingly.

Teixeira: Top Five Takeaways from the 2017 Elections

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

The 2017 elections were quite a revelation. Pretty much everywhere where the Republicans could have lost, they lost. The marquee race, the contest for governor of Virginia—which was supposed to be close—was won easily (54-45) by Democrat Ralph Northan over Republican Ed Gillespie, who had attempted to emulate Trump by running an anti-immigrant scare campaign. And downballot in the Virginia House of Delegates—the lower house of the Virginia legislature—the Democrats flipped at least 15 seats—going from a lopsided 66-34 disadvantage to, at worst, almost tied (51-49). The newly-elected included a transgender woman (who defeated an ultra-conservative Republican, self-described as “Virginia’s chief homophobe”) and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (who defeated the GOP House majority whip). These shifts were not expected by the even the most optimistic Democratic observer.

All over the country, unusual and significant results obtained. Maine over-rode their conservative governor and voted by initiative to implement the Obamacare-funded expansion of Medicaid. A special election victory in Washington state gave Democrats control of the Senate and, thereby, unified control of government in that state (Governor, Senate, House). Democrats flipped three open seats in the Georgia state legislature. A black Liberian immigrant was elected mayor of Helena, the capital of Montana. A Sikh was elected mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey (a state where Democrats easily won the governor’s race as well). A black woman was elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. And so it went, as a blue wave swept the country.

One must be cautious in reading too much into any one election, especially a non-federal one where electoral contests were irregularly scattered around the country. But there are some important takeaways that can be discerned from the pattern of results. Here are my top five.

  1. Trump and the GOP have not repealed the laws of politics. Normally, one would expect that a very unpopular incumbent president, pursuing very unpopular policies and showing essentially no legislative accomplishments, would hurt the incumbent party at the ballot box. But people were very cautious in assuming this would be so for Trump and the GOP, given his unexpected victory in the 2016 election, which seemed to defy normal political expectations.

As it turns out, Trump has not rewritten the rule books. He is historically unpopular for a US President at this stage of his term (37-38 percent approval/56-57 percent disapproval), has made innumerable inflammatory statements that most voters dislike and has pushed, with his party, a health care plan that was detested by the public and died in Congress. This should have hurt the Republicans and it did, consistent with historical patterns and standard political science research.

  1. The Democrats are looking very good for 2018. The stakes in 2018 will be far higher than in 2017, with all US House members up for election, plus 33 US Senators, 36 state governors and 6,066 state legislators (82 percent of the country’s total). Prospects for the Democrats now look very positive indeed for this election.

The Democrats currently have a wide lead on the generic Congressional ballot (which party’s Congressional candidate would you vote for if the election were held today?), about 9 points which predicts a Democratic gain sufficiently large (they need to pick up 23 seats) to take back the US House of Representatives. Moreover, the general pattern is for the incumbent party’s generic ballot disadvantage to widen, not contract, as we get closer to the election, so the Democrats appear well-positioned to make the necessary gains; at this point, they should be considered favorites to accomplish this goal.

Other factors on their side besides Trump’s dreadful approval ratings include a wave of Republican retirements from disillusioned legislators, creating more open seats; tremendous Democratic success in recruiting candidates for Congress and lower offices; strong Democratic performance in various “special” elections (elections held off-cycle to fill a suddenly vacant seat) held since Trump assumed office; and the general historical pattern that the opposition party gains ground in midterm elections. In short, the pieces are in place for another wave election in 2018, where the results will have far more weight than the elections just held.

  1. White college graduates are looking more and more like a Democratic constituency. It is remarkable how wide the education divide now is among white voters, with white college graduates and non-graduates steadily diverging in their political behavior. New estimates we have developed at the Center for American Progress indicate that both Obama in 2012 and Clinton in 2016 carried white college graduates nationwide, with Clinton achieving a solid 7 point lead among this demographic. Our estimates also show that Clinton carried white college graduates in most swing states, sometimes by wide margins.

Statistical and anecdotal evidence indicate that this trend only intensified in the 2017 elections. My estimate, based on trends revealed by the exit polls and our own work on voting patterns among this demographic, is that Democrats carried white college graduates by double digits in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

  1. Keep your eye on the Millennial generation. In the 2016 election, Democrats carried the 18-29 year old vote by 27 points, according to our estimates. Moreover, Clinton carried young voters by wide margins in all swing states, including in ones she lost. And very significantly, in most of these swing states she also carried white Millennials, indicating just how profound this generational shift is.

This pattern carried over to 2017 where Democrats carried the youth vote by 39 and 48 points, respectively, in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections.

  1. The white working class vote is still the Democrats’ critical weakness. Not all was roses however. In Virginia, Northam still lost the white noncollege vote by around 40 points, very little improved over Clinton’s performance in the state in 2016. This is especially worrisome because white noncollege voters, despite a secular decline in voter share, remain a larger group than white college voters in almost all states, and far larger in the Rustbelt states that gave the Democrats so much trouble in the 2016 election.

There are positive signs however in trends among white noncollege voters, particularly from the Millennial generation according to our analysis of 2016 election data. To build on these trends and make some inroads generally among these voters, Democrats will probably have to offer something besides vigorous denunciations of Trump, who is more popular—though slipping–with these voters than with the rest of country. If Wall Street financier Robert Rubin, the Democrats’ quintessential 1990’s neoliberal economic figure, is now advocating for a massive public jobs program, perhaps it’s time to make that offer to these voters and to the rest of the electorate. The political winds are shifting and fortune belongs to the bold.

Despite Democratic Romp, Study Shows Dems Can’t Write Off White Working Class

In his Washington Post column, “Democrats Cut the Cheer,” David Von Drehle takes the punch bowl away from the Democratic gloatfest following last week’s elections, noting the findings of “a deeply researched paper published Nov. 1 by the liberal Center for American Progress”:

…Political scientists Rob Griffin, Ruy Texeira and John Halpin set out after the 2016 election to determine who voted — by race, age and education — and in what proportions. Their months-long project drew strands from a wide range of data sources and wove them into a picture quite different from the one painted by the imperfect art of Election Day exit polling…“Voter Trends in 2016: A Final Examination” suggests that the coalition of college-educated progressives and people of color on which Democrats have staked their identity may be weaker than most party strategists believed. And as they continue their crawl through the political wilderness, they may find that efforts to strengthen the coalition prove counterproductive, as they did against Trump.

Von Drehle’s brush is a bit broad, in that not all Democrats “have staked their identity” on said coalition, but he is right that identity politics advocates provide “a significant source of the energy in the Democratic Party.” Many Democratic leaders have urged a more inclusive electoral pitch. But for those who have urged ignoring the white working-class, Von Drehle’s column makes some instructive points, including;

I was struck by two sets of data from this rich trove of findings that may add up to a cautionary tale. First, the white electorate is larger and less educated than exit polls would have us believe. The pollsters calculated that 71 percent of voters in 2016 were white and that more than half of them had four or more years of college. But the CAP team came to a very different conclusion: The turnout was nearly 74 percent white (a significant difference in a razor-thin election), and only about two out of five of these voters had a college degree.

Overall, 45 percent of voters in 2016 — by far the largest segment — were whites who either did not attend or did not complete college. This was not entirely a Trump-driven phenomenon. The authors found that exit polls greatly underestimated the voting power of non-college-educated whites in 2012, too.

Second, whatever strength Democrats have gained from identity politics appears to have reached a natural ceiling. Candidate Trump built his campaign on his willingness to offend people. He bashed immigrants, linked Mexicans to violent crime, dog-whistled to white supremacists. Yet when the votes were counted, Trump outperformed 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney among African American voters and matched Romney among Latinos.

Von Drehle adds that “A lot of pixels have been devoted to the theory that Clinton would have won the election had she matched Barack Obama in African American turnout. The CAP study confirms that this is true. But the study also shows that she would have won had she matched Obama among whites without a degree.”

“Once the party of the working class,” Von Drehle continues, “Democrats have lost their connection to the largest bloc of voters in America. Democrats had an edge in 1992 of more than five points over Republicans in the registration of white voters with only a high school diploma. By 2016, Republicans had flipped that advantage and widened it to more than 25 points.”

Identity politics advocates will no doubt point to Northam’s Virginia victory as proof that Democrats can win governorships in purple states, even when the Republican candidate wins white non-college voters by a margin of about 40 points. But Democrats can’t count on replicating last week’s political moment, nor Republicans making the same blundering miscalculations of the Gillespie campaign.

Further, as Von Drehle concludes, “No party should feel sanguine heading into an election so glaringly weak with the plurality of the electorate. Democrats will celebrate in 2018 and beyond only if they begin reconnecting with the white working class. How? By assuring them that their concerns matter — not more than, but as much as, anyone else’s.”